Boswell, Latham and King vote to override EPA coal ash regulations

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. House approved a bill seeking to limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate how coal ash is used. Iowa Democrat Leonard Boswell (IA-03) joined Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) in voting for the bill, although his votes on some key amendments suggested that he was not fully behind the legislation’s goals.

The Hill’s Pete Kasperowicz recently provided background on H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act:

The EPA in 2010 put out two draft proposals for regulating the residue left from burning coal. One would set out a uniform plan for regulating coal ash, and the other would leave it to states. EPA has since received nearly a half-million comments on its proposal, and combing through those comments means a final rule will not be ready until 2012 at the earliest.

The bill up in the House next week, H.R. 2273, would allow states to adopt and implement coal ash permit programs, and create minimum standards for regulation of coal ash. The bill would let states notify the EPA that they have a program in place on coal ash, or allow the EPA to run a similar program for states that choose not to set up their own program. […]

According to the EPA, coal ash is currently a waste product that is exempt from regulation under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and is typically a residue from the burning of coal in power plants.

Physicians for Social Responsibility has compiled useful links on coal ash toxicity. Click here to download a full report on “Coal Ash: The Toxic Threat to Our Health and Environment.”

The House took up the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act on October 14. After the chamber rejected a series of Democratic amendments, the House approved the bill by 267 votes to 144 (roll call). All but three Republicans present voted yes, joined by 37 House Democrats.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, Iowa representatives Boswell, Latham and King all voted for final passage of H.R. 2273. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against the bill. Bruce Braley (IA-01) was absent for the vote, but his staff informed me that he would have opposed H.R. 2273 had he been present. That is consistent with Braley’s votes against other recent House efforts to undermine the EPA’s ability to regulate pollution (see also here and here).

A closer look at the floor debate on October 14 suggests that Boswell was not 100 percent behind Republican efforts to undermine EPA regulation of coal ash. Like most House Democrats, Boswell voted for four of the five Democratic amendments rejected by recorded votes:

Henry Waxman’s effort “to require state programs to meet a legal standard of protection to ensure that human health and the environment are protected”;

Ed Markey’s effort “to establish a time frame for bringing existing surface impoundments into compliance with revised criteria for design, groundwater monitoring, and corrective action”;

Markey’s effort “to notify the public and the EPA and offer the opportunity to comment before a State establishes a program to regulate coal combustion waste”; and

Sheila Jackson Lee’s effort “to require the Administrator of the EPA to submit a report to Congress on the long-term impacts of State coal combustion residuals permit programs on human health and the environment within five years of enactment of the legislation.”

Boswell also voted for the motion to recommit H.R. 2273 with instructions. (The motion to recommit is usually the House minority’s last effort to block a bill.) The only Democratic amendment Boswell joined House Republicans in voting down was submitted by Bobby Rush; it would have provided “federal enforcement authority so that if the EPA Administrator determines that a structure is in violation of a State coal combustion residuals permit program, and the State has not taken appropriate action to enforce such permit program with respect to such structure, the Administrator may inspect such structure and enforce the requirements of such permit program with respect to such structure.”

Boswell behaved the same way when the House debated another bill last week to restrict the EPA; he voted primarily with the Democratic caucus seeking to make a bad bill slightly less bad, then joined most House Republicans to support final passage. I believe he does not want to give Latham or conservative groups fodder for 2012 campaign ads about Boswell’s so-called “job-killing” votes.

According to Kasperowicz, the U.S. Senate is unlikely to consider H.R. 2273, let alone pass it. The Obama administration released a policy statement criticizing the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, but “The White House did not recommend that President Obama veto the legislation as it did with three other recent Republican bills to soften or delay EPA regulations.” I would rather hear a clear veto threat against this kind of bill, especially since a GOP-controlled House and Senate could revive the effort following the 2012 elections.

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